28 March 2010

CREA - Research Plots on Corn

I was able to visit two different CREA research projects during the past couple weeks, one investigating fertilizer effects on soils and crops, and the second investigating fungicide effect on corn yield. The first visit was with Miguel Boxler, the research coordinator for Sur de Santa Fe and Fernando Garcia with International Plant Nutrition Institute (IPNI), and Ricardo Pozzi, a CREA advisor and the coordinator of this project. This project was coordinated across the Sur de Santa Fe Region.

Dr. Garcia and IPNI were interested in the long term effects of fertilizer on soils and crop yields. They needed competent producers to carry out the long term project. They turned to CREA Sur de Santa Fe. They also needed a sponsor for the project. ASP (similar to CPS in the States) volunteered and provides all of the fertilizer for the tests.

Dr. Garcia informed me that they are in the tenth year of the project and they have six farms remaining. Each farm has fertilizer treatments involving nitrogen, phosphorus and sulphur, all compared with no fertilizer. Each farm has three replications of the treatments. Everything is performed with farm-scale equipment and the plots are very large. The farms then operate one of two rotations: corn - wheat - double crop soybeans or full season soybeans - corn - wheat - double crop soybeans.

Over this time, students at universities have conducted research projects. CREA, IPNI and ASP all are interested in as much data as possible. They welcome university researchers. Some of the measurements on the soils include soil stability, velocity of infiltration, young carbon, bulk density, soil P fractions and soil microbiological properties. All of these measurements are compared across the contrasting fertilizer treatments.

After we looked at two different fields, Dr. Garcia, Jorge Minteguiaga (regional coordinator for CREA), and Ricardo Pozzi discussed the direction of the research plots over lunch. After 10 years of data, they were asking each other if new treatments, changes to current treatments or other factors should be included. Personally, I would love to have six farms with replicated plots for ten years. Ricardo told me that the soils in this area are about 70% silt, 25% clay and 5% sand. I would love to have that soil as well!

Miguel told me that he is managing 70 research plots for CREA Sur de Santa Fe, including hybrids, fertilizers, etc. All of the plots are conducted with farm-scale equipment and use large field plots. In addition to these research plots, many of the CREA groups conduct research plots as well. About 270 sites of research are being conducted this year across Sur de Santa Fe (70 of those are organized by the region, the remainder are organized by individual groups or farms).

The second visit was with Maximo Uranga, producer, and Juan Pablo Ioele, advisor, of CREA Posta Espinollos. This CREA group had put together a fungicide protocol on corn. The treatments included six hybrids, all planted in long strips. Fungicide (Opera) was applied at about V14 or at R1 (tassel/silking) in two separate treatments. Each farm has only one replication, but six different farms serve as the replications.

In addition to these treatments, Maximo included some nitrogen fertilizer rates and plant density rates. If I understood correctly, these treatments were solely on Maximo's farm and he had three replications of these treatments.

While Maximo collected grain samples from the harvester, Juan Pablo and I checked stalks for disease. I wasn't keeping track of the treatments, but it appeared that stalk diseases were a function of hybrid and less affected by fungicide. Fungicide timing did increase grain moisture content (the no fungicide treatment was the lowest grain moisture and R1 treatment was the highest grain moisture concentration). Grain yields appeared to be sporadic and not influenced by fungicide treatment. Again, this is only one site and I was looking at the preliminary data.

What I have witnessed is some really good research being conducted on large-scale plots with a coordinated effort. They have the same challenges as we do, such as getting some treatments to work well with equipment limitations. But, to have this many farms with research plots and for these farmers to be sharing their research with each other is extremely helpful to all producers. In addition, I was told that CREA will share their research results with non-CREA producers. They have the opinion that they want more farmers to join CREA and the research plots are a good advertisement for that.

A spot in the field with a "triple", three plants very close to each other. I've noticed a lot of doubles and triples in many of the fields. Planter accuracy is a problem here, but seed costs are much less. Since contractors get paid by the hectare, there is pressure on them to plant each hectare as fast as possible. That probably leads to more doubles and triples.

Dr. Fernando Garcia with IPNI (middle), Miguel Boxler, research coordinator for CREA Sur de Santa Fe (far left) and Ricardo Pozzi, CREA advisor, (between Miguel and Fernando) examine corn in the fertilizer trials.

Maximo is talking with the contractor about how to harvest the plots.

A couple of Maximo's children are enjoying riding in the combine.

Checking stalks for diseases. We saw some anthracnose and a little fusarium.

The weigh wagon is equipped with scales, allowing the contractor to record the weight of each plot.